MTN reveals all on billing

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MTN's call centre queue started at 6 800 calls to process on Friday morning, with most of the calls related to the company's billing trouble.

“We are literally working our socks off trying to resolve the trouble our customers are going through at the moment,” says the company's customer relations executive, Eddie Moyce, speaking exclusively to ITWeb on the matter.

While MTN is fielding a mass of calls, Moyce says there seems to have been a drop off in the number of unhappy customers with billing queries.

At the end of January, ITWeb discovered that MTN clients were being debited up to tens of thousands of rands from their accounts for back-charges on data accounts. One customer, Benzi Kornizer, is rallying others into a class action lawsuit against the mobile giant.

Moyce admits that switching over to the new billing system has been a nightmare for both the company and its customers, adding that there has been more than one problem with the system since it was implemented.

However, he notes that MTN is working around the clock to try and solve everyone's problems as soon as possible. “We are working hard to ensure a situation like this never happens again.”

The big three

Moyce says customers could be facing one or more of three possible problems with their accounts, from double billing to under-billing or incorrect rate charges.

The problem that most customers face is one that stems from September last year, when customers were not billed at all for that month. “We only picked up that we did not charge clients in that month a few weeks later when we completed the reconciliation between systems,” says Moyce.

He adds that not billing a large number of customers who were affected would have resulted in a serious revenue knock for MTN. “We then decided to notify our customers of the problem and have the amounts deducted from customer accounts.”

Many subscribers were enraged that MTN simply debited accounts for the outstanding amounts, and others could not pay the sums that MTN had requested. Moyce says MTN is happy to work with each client to find a payment plan, if they are having trouble paying the owed amounts.

One customer managed to run up a bill of R60 000, and one ITWeb reader has a R91 000 bill. However, Moyce explains that the customer with a R60 000 bill has approached MTN and the company has proved the client did spend that amount.

Part of the customer's trouble was Microsoft automatic updates, which used enough bandwidth over five months to account for R21 000 of his bill. Moyce says he has discounted the customer some of that money and a payment plan has been implemented for the rest.

“I feel for those customers who have managed to spend that much money; and I will try and help where I can,” he says.

The customer implementing the class action against MTN, Kornizer, met with the company's top level executives on Friday to try and resolve his problem. MTN has provided him with everything he has asked for; however, it is still unclear whether he will pursue the possible court action.

Double trouble

The second billing issue will see many customers receive a refund from the operator. Moyce says several subscribers have been double billed and MTN is processing the refunds.

The double billing has been narrowed to one particular geographic area, which it declined to disclose. “It was caused by a fault in one of our switches, which in turn created the double bill,” explains Moyce.

The third billing problem stemmed from people not being properly discounted on certain promotions. The company is investigating which customers were affected by this and is working to apply a credit process with the correct discounts applied.

Moyce says he understands that finances are an emotional issue. Not only are most South Africans taking strain with the economic downturn, December and January are sensitive months financially.

However, Moyce says that, for most of the queries the company is fielding from clients, it can prove where or how each customer spent the money they are trying not to pay. “We have found that many customers have gone out of bundle, which is a premium service.”

Prevention vs cure

However, Moyce says MTN has learned a lot from its billing debacle, which he hopes will help the business implement better customer checks and controls. He says MTN will look into a process of letting data customers know they are out of bundle, and ensure clients are aware the cost out of bundle is far higher than when in bundle.

He adds that the company will make more of an effort to educate customers on how data is billed, and perhaps help them to manage their data usage better. “Implementing this billing system has been a complicated situation. We have not had a similar situation in 10 years.”

Moyce has also asked customers to remember that, while they may be angry or frustrated, the call centre staff members manning the frontlines are also people, and none of them are responsible for the billing trouble.

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